Unpaid labour a mental health risk

05 October 2022

A University of Melbourne study has found that women are at greater risk of poorer mental health than men because of inequality in the division of unpaid labour between men and women.

Across the globe, women are still largely responsible for their household’s unpaid labour, spending, on average, three to six hours per day on unpaid work—compared to 0.5 to two hours shouldered by men. These responsibilities are magnified in OECD countries where women spend more total time on paid and unpaid work than men.

Drs Jennifer Ervin and Tania King from the University of Melbourne conducted a review of 19 studies of the gendered association between unpaid labour and mental health among employed adults. Studies from Sweden, the USA, Canada, Finland, England, Scotland and 25 European countries – as well as Ghana, Japan, and Australia were included in the review.

The researchers found substantial gender differences which confirm persistent inequities in the division of unpaid work. For employed people, a high unpaid workload can lead to stress, role overload, role conflict and time poverty – all of which may negatively impact health and wellbeing.

The authors call for policies, like universal childcare and normalising flexible working arrangements for men. Ultimately, the authors conclude, ‘reducing the disproportionate unpaid labour burden on women, by enabling men to take on their equal share, has the potential to improve women’s mental health.’

Link to study, published September 2022 in The Lancet journal.